A 1980s Look at Special Effects Makeup Expert Rick Baker

From creating prosthetic creatures for iconic films to revolutionizing special makeup effects techniques, discover why expert Rick Baker was a pioneer in his field. Here we look at his 1980s work in particular

A 1980s Look at Special Effects Makeup Expert Rick Baker
Rick Baker: Funhouse (1981)

Rick Baker: The Master of Special Makeup Effects

Rick Baker is a name that is synonymous with special makeup effects in the world of cinema. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest makeup artists in movie history and has won numerous awards for his incredible work. But, like every great success story, Rick's journey to become the master of special makeup effects was not an easy one.

Early Life and Education

Rick Baker was born on December 8, 1950, in Binghamton, New York. His passion for makeup effects started at a young age when he would experiment with creating fake wounds using household items. He inherited his artistic talents from his father, who was a professional artist and encouraged him to pursue his passion.

Rick attended Catholic school until the 8th grade and then transferred to a public high school. He was not academically inclined, but he excelled in art class. After graduating from high school, Rick enrolled in the Academy of Professional Arts in Pittsburgh.

Introduction to Makeup Effects

After completing his education, Rick moved to Hollywood in search of job opportunities. It wasn't long before he landed his first job as an assistant makeup artist on the film "The Exorcist" in 1973. This was a pivotal moment in Rick's career, as it gave him the opportunity to work with veteran makeup artist Dick Smith and learn from the best.


Dick Smith: The Godfather of Makeup

It wouldn't be an overstatement to say that Dick Smith is a legend in the world of makeup effects.

Dick Smith Applying makeup on Linda Blair: The Exorcist 1973

Born Richard Emerson Smith on June 26, 1922, Smith was known for his innovative approaches and groundbreaking work in the field of makeup effects, earning him the epithet "The Godfather of Makeup". He pioneered techniques that are still used by artists today, and he directly influenced the careers of future industry giants, including Rick Baker.

Smith's most iconic work includes his transformation of Linda Blair into a possessed child in The Exorcist, one of the scariest films in the history of cinema. His masterful aging makeup for Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man, and the horrifyingly realistic gunshot wound he created for the climactic scene in The Godfather, are also among his memorable masterpieces. However, it was his work on The Exorcist that arguably cemented his legacy. The grotesque makeup effects, paired with the film's terror-inducing atmosphere, made The Exorcist a cultural phenomenon, and it continues to be a touchstone of horror cinema to this day.

Smith's influence extends beyond his film work. Notably, he was a mentor to the likes of Rick Baker and other future industry stars. His willingness to share his knowledge and techniques with the next generation of artists made him not just a legend, but also a beloved figure in the industry. Smith passed away in 2014, but his legacy lives on in the artists he inspired and the unforgettable characters he created.


A New Benchmark with An American Werewolf in London (1981)

American Werewolf in London (1981) film cover

In 1981, Rick Baker pushed the boundaries of special effects makeup to extraordinary lengths with his work on the horror-comedy, An American Werewolf in London. Directed by John Landis, the film tells the story of two American students, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne), whose backpacking trip across England takes a horrific turn when they are attacked by a werewolf. David survives the attack but is cursed to become a werewolf himself.

Baker's most notable contribution to the film is the jaw-dropping transformation sequence, where David turns into a werewolf for the first time. Up until then, transformations in werewolf movies were often depicted using simple cross-fading techniques or off-screen implications. However, Baker's groundbreaking work changed this standard approach, offering audiences an excruciatingly detailed, minute-by-minute transformation scene that played out in real-time.

To achieve this groundbreaking effect, Baker used a combination of animatronic puppets, prosthetic makeup, and mechanical devices. The transformation was divided into several stages, each requiring a different makeup effect to portray the physical changes David was undergoing. These stages included the elongation of David's hands and feet, the bulging of his spine, and the stretching of his face into a snout.

The prosthetics used in the transformation sequence were made from foam latex and were carefully sculpted to match the actor's body. To show the transformation in detail, Baker created a series of facial masks that progressively showed David's face changing into a werewolf. Mechanical devices were used to make the masks move and change shape, providing a startlingly realistic effect.

The realism and attention to detail in this transformation sequence were unprecedented and won Baker his first Oscar for Best Makeup, a new category that was introduced that year largely due to An American Werewolf in London's groundbreaking effects.

Human in the process of transforming into a werewolf: American Werewolf in London 1981

Baker also created the design for the fully transformed werewolf, a hulking creature that walked on all fours, unlike the traditional bipedal werewolves depicted in previous films. He used a combination of puppetry and an actor in a suit for the werewolf scenes, creating a creature that was both terrifying and believable.


An American Werewolf in London is often regarded as a high point in Rick Baker's career, showcasing his ability to combine creativity with technical expertise to deliver truly unforgettable movie magic. It stands as a testament to his exceptional talent and the revolutionary impact he had on the film industry.

  • An American Werewolf in London was the first film to win an Oscar for Best Makeup. The category was introduced especially that year and the award was given to Rick Baker for his groundbreaking work.
  • The werewolf transformation scene took nearly a week to film despite it lasting for only a minute on screen.
  • To create the werewolf's howl, sound designers blended together the sounds of an elephant seal, a pig, and a wolf.
  • The scene where the werewolf attacks Jack was filmed backwards to add an eerie and unnatural effect to the creature's movements.
  • John Landis, the film's director, originally wrote the script for An American Werewolf in London when he was only 19 years old, but it took over a decade to get the film made.
  • Rick Baker initially turned down the film because he was working on a similar werewolf project with director Joe Dante, but when that film was delayed, he returned to work with Landis.
  • The prosthetics for the transformation scene were so convincing that actor David Naughton found the process emotionally distressing.
  • Despite its horror genre, the film uses several pop songs in its soundtrack, all of which have the word 'moon' in their title, adding a touch of humour to the gruesome tale.

Critics on Release

Upon its release, An American Werewolf in London garnered a mixed reception from critics. The film's blending of horror and comedy was seen as novel by some, but others found it jarring.

An American Werewolf in London original poster

The narrative was considered to be somewhat ragged, but it was Rick Baker's groundbreaking special effects makeup that received unanimous acclaim. Critics were astounded by the realism and attention to detail in the werewolf transformation scene, which set a new standard in the film industry. Vincent Canby of 'The New York Times' declared the film to be a 'rollicking piece of gory fun', particularly praising the makeup effects. Roger Ebert, however, was less impressed with the story, stating "An American Werewolf in London seems curiously unfinished, as if director John Landis spent all his energy on spectacular set pieces and then didn't want to bother with things like transitions, character development, or an ending". Despite the mixed reviews, the film has since gained a considerable cult following, and Baker’s work continues to be highly regarded in the industry.


The Funhouse (1981)

The Funhouse (1981) movie cover

After his groundbreaking work in An American Werewolf in London, Rick Baker's next venture was the horror flick The Funhouse, directed by Tobe Hooper. The film, set in a haunted carnival funhouse, follows four teenagers who decide to spend the night in the funhouse and find themselves stalked by a nightmarish creature.

Baker, once again, demonstrated his unmatched skill in creature design and prosthetic makeup effects. The antagonist of the film, the 'Funhouse Freak', had an intricate design involving an animatronic mask capable of displaying different expressions, which was a significant technical achievement in that era.

Despite the film's modest budget, Baker and his team were able to create an eerily lifelike character using prosthetics, foam latex, and carefully applied makeup.

Rick Baker scuplting figure for The Funhouse 1981

The Funhouse Freak was terrifying and grotesque with its large bald head, drooping eye, and malformed jaw, yet it also managed to evoke a degree of sympathy, a testament to Baker's ability to instil depth and character into his creations.

Although The Funhouse did not achieve the same level of acclaim as An American Werewolf in London, it contributed significantly to Baker's reputation as a master of horror makeup effects. The film enjoys a cult following, and the horrifying image of the Funhouse Freak remains one of the most enduring and iconic creations in Rick Baker’s illustrious filmography.

  • The Funhouse Freak's design was inspired by 'The Phantom of The Opera' and 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame'.
  • Rick Baker’s visually stunning creature effects were highly lauded despite the film’s lukewarm reception.
  • The 'Funhouse Freak' is frequently cited as one of the most memorable horror movie monsters of the '80s.
  • The film was predominantly shot on a soundstage, allowing Baker to have more control over the application of his intricate makeup effects.

Release and Reception of The Funhouse (1981)

The Funhouse 1981 Bluray cover

Upon its release in March 1981, The Funhouse was met with a mixed response. Its unique premise, coupled with Rick Baker's impressive visual effects, drew audiences to theatres, contributing to a reasonable box office success. However, the film's critical reception was varied.

Some critics praised its atmospheric setting and chilling horror elements. Others, however, were critical of its pace, considering the narrative development to be slow and lacking in suspense. What was universally appreciated, though, was the stunning creature effects by Rick Baker. The grotesque design of the 'Funhouse Freak' remains a significant highlight of the film, praised for its intricate detailing and the nuanced emotions it was able to evoke. Over time, The Funhouse has garnered a cult following, with horror enthusiasts appreciating the film’s atmospheric tension and Baker's outstanding makeup and prosthetic work. Despite its initial mixed reviews, the film has distinctly reinforced Rick Baker's status as a master of horror makeup effects.


Venturing into the Surreal with Videodrome (1983)

Videodrome (1983) movie poster

In 1983, Rick Baker embarked on a project that would push his skills and creativity to a whole new level. Baker was approached to work on the film Videodrome, directed by the acclaimed David Cronenberg. Known for his penchant for body horror and dreamlike narratives, Cronenberg's Videodrome presented Baker with a unique challenge — to visually portray the film's exploration of the blurred lines between reality and television.

The film follows Max Renn, a TV station operator, who stumbles upon a broadcast signal featuring extreme violence and torture. The line between reality and hallucination becomes increasingly distorted as Renn becomes obsessed with the show, leading to grotesque hallucinations that are both terrifying and fascinating.

Baker's work on Videodrome involved creating a range of special effects makeups and prosthetics, including the now iconic 'TV screen' torso. This hallucination-induced transformation of Max Renn, where a gaping hole opens on his stomach, resembling a VHS slot, was a particularly demanding task for Baker. To create this effect, a combination of latex prosthetics and carefully choreographed movements from actor James Woods were used.

Rick Baker applying makeup on James Woods:Videodrome 1983

Another demanding effect was the 'Gun Hand' sequence, where Renn's hand merges with a gun, a vivid and grotesque metaphor for the power and violence of media. Baker crafted a realistic prosthetic arm that convincingly melded flesh and firearm, creating an iconic visual for the film.

Barry Convex “programming” Max Renn:Videodrome 1983

Videodrome was a departure from Baker's previous creature-feature works, demanding a more surreal and psychological approach to effects. However, his mastery of makeup effects ensured that the film's visuals were as disturbing and thought-provoking as its themes. His work on Videodrome further showcased his versatility and ability to adapt to different genres and demands, establishing him as an artist capable of more than just werewolves and monsters.

  • Videodrome garnered a cult following despite initially not doing well at the box office.
  • Rick Baker's effects continue to be celebrated, contributing greatly to the film's enduring appeal.
  • The film's themes of media influence and technology's impact on reality continue to be relevant today.
  • Videodrome won the Genie Award for Best Achievement in Direction, Best Achievement in Editing, and Best Original Screenplay.

The Phenomenon of Thriller (1983)

Thriller (1983) video cover

1983 marked a momentous year for Rick Baker, as it saw the synthesis of his unparalleled talents with the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, in the iconic music video — Thriller. Directed by John Landis, the same director as An American Werewolf in London, Thriller remains to this day a landmark in music video history, largely due to Baker's transformative makeup prowess.

Thriller is not simply a music video; it is a 14-minute mini-horror film featuring Jackson and a horde of the undead. Baker's task was to transform Jackson, one of the most recognisable faces in the world, into a horrifying werewolf and then into a dancing zombie. The makeup process was arduous, with Jackson having to sit through hours of application and removal of prosthetics, but the end result was nothing short of spectacular.

The werewolf transformation scene is a tribute to An American Werewolf in London, featuring similar stretching skin and contorting features, a testament to Baker's mastery of transformation makeup.

Rick Baker working on Michael Jackson:Thriller 1983

However, it was the transformation of Jackson and his dancers into ghoulish zombies that truly captured the world's imagination. With sunken eyes, rotting skin, and decaying costumes, Baker's zombies were terrifyingly realistic. Yet, they danced with joyous energy, creating a delightful contrast that encapsulates the magic of Thriller.

The impact of Thriller was immediate and lasting. Baker's work has been celebrated for decades, and his zombie makeup has become as synonymous with Halloween as pumpkins and witches. The video also helped to solidify Jackson's status as a pop culture icon, merging music, dance, and horror into a unique spectacle that still captivates audiences today.

  • Thriller became the first music video selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
  • The video revolutionised the music industry, showcasing the potential of music videos as a significant art form.
  • Baker's makeup for the video set a new standard for makeup effects in music videos, influencing countless artists and makeup artists in the years following.
  • The iconic zombie dance sequence has been replicated and parodied countless times, testament to the enduring influence of Baker's work.
  • The making-of documentary for Thriller featured Baker and his team, giving viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the intricate makeup process.
  • Thriller won three MTV Video Music Awards, including Best Choreography.
  • Rick Baker received his first Grammy Award for Best Music Video, Long Form for Michael Jackson's Thriller.

Swinging into Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984)

The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984) film poster

The year 1984 saw Rick Baker stepping into the lush jungles of Africa (at least, cinematically) to work on the film Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. Directed by Hugh Hudson, the film sought to revisit Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic character, Tarzan, with a more grounded and realistic approach.

Baker's contribution to Greystoke was significant and unique as it placed him in the dual role of designer and performer. Tasked with creating a believable family of apes who raised Tarzan, Baker opted for a combination of make-up effects and suit performances. Ingeniously, he and his crew developed full-bodied simian suits complete with animated facial expressions.

To achieve the highest level of realism, Baker chose to don one of the suits himself to play Tarzan's adoptive ape-mother, Kala. His choice wasn't simply a whim - Baker believed that a nuanced performance was vital to sell the reality of the apes and who better to do it than the man who knew the suits best?

Rick Baker creating ape: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984)

Greystoke presented a new challenge for Baker, diverging from the fantastical horrors of his previous works. His efforts, however, did not go unnoticed. The simian suits and performances were hailed as a triumph of practical effects, bringing a genuine sense of realism to the film.

This commitment to authenticity wouldn't just leave an indelible mark on the film but on Baker's career as well. His work on Greystoke earned him his third Academy Award nomination, further cementing his reputation as a maestro of make-up and special effects. Key achievements and contributions from this period include:

  • The ape suits in Greystoke were groundbreaking, combining meticulous design with nuanced performances.
  • Baker's portrayal of Kala is considered one of his most underrated performances.
  • Greystoke allowed Baker to showcase a different side of his artistry, emphasising realism and subtlety over fantastical horror.
  • The film led to Baker's third Academy Award nomination, attesting to his exceptional skills and versatility in special effects makeup.
  • Despite mixed reviews, Greystoke has since been recognised for its pioneering effects work. The film’s influential approach to its subject matter continues to inspire filmmakers today.

Even as Baker's work on Greystoke was hailed as a triumph of special effects, the reactions of film critics were considerably mixed. While some praised the film for its bold departure from previous iterations of the Tarzan story, others critiqued it for its heavy reliance on visual spectacle over narrative depth.

Rick Baker working on ape's head:The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984)

Roger Ebert, a reputable film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, bestowed a four-star rating on Greystoke, lauding its realism and the emotional depth of the characters. Ebert was particularly impressed with the ape suits created by Baker, describing them as a masterstroke that brought an unprecedented level of realism to the film.

However, not all critics shared this enthusiasm. Variety found the film’s pacing sluggish, asserting that its emphasis on visual effects detracted from the storytelling. In their view, despite Baker's ground-breaking work, the film fell short of its narrative potential.

Despite these contrasting critical views, there is a unanimous consensus on one aspect: Rick Baker's special effects work was innovative and masterfully executed, significantly contributing to the film's visual appeal and setting a new benchmark in the realm of make-up effects.


Crossing Paths with Starman (1984)

Starman (1984) film poster

In the same year that saw Baker bring the jungles of Greystoke to life, he also turned his talent to a story set across the stars. John Carpenter’s Starman presented a different but equally exciting opportunity for Baker. The film, which tells the tale of an alien entity taking human form, required a unique approach to special effects makeup.

Baker’s task was to transform actor Jeff Bridges into an otherworldly being within the confines of a human silhouette. The endeavour required a particular finesse, a balancing act between making the character look convincingly human, yet subtly alien. Baker achieved this by leveraging prosthetics that subtly altered Bridges' features, creating an uncanny effect that perfectly captured the essence of an extraterrestrial being inhabiting a human body.

Starman was a departure from the fantastical creatures and horror-infused creations Baker was known for. Yet, his nuanced interpretation of the Starman character was widely praised, demonstrating his ability to adapt his craft to different genres and concepts.

Baby created by Rick Baker: Starman (1984)

Starman was released in December 1984 to positive reviews. Critics lauded the movie for its unique fusion of sci-fi and romance, paired with compelling performances. A significant part of the film's appeal was the subtle yet impactful transformation of Jeff Bridges into the Starman, made possible by Baker's unparalleled skill in special effects makeup.

Despite the film's modest opening, Starman gained momentum as word spread about its heartening narrative and distinct visual appeal. The film would later earn an Oscar nomination for Jeff Bridges, proving its resonance with audiences and critics alike.

Even decades after its release, Starman continues to be celebrated for its innovative storytelling and the remarkable effects work of Rick Baker, highlighting how the artist’s touch extended beyond the horror genre to leave an enduring impact on the realm of science fiction.

Highlights of Baker’s work on Starman include:

  • The design of the Starman was a testament to Baker's ability to communicate the alien within the familiar.
  • Baker's work on Starman demonstrated his versatility, as the film’s requirements were a departure from the horror and fantasy genres he had previously worked in.
  • His subtle use of prosthetics on Jeff Bridges' face was a masterclass in minimalist design, achieving maximum impact with minimum alterations.
  • Starman showcased the depth of Baker's creativity and his ability to convey narrative through makeup effects.

Despite Starman not being a commercial blockbuster, Baker’s remarkable work did not go unnoticed. His ability to portray the eerie yet endearing alien character contributed significantly to the film's cult status, once again proving his mastery of the art of special effects makeup.


The Unconventional Charm of Ratboy (1986)

Ratboy (1986) film poster

Baker's innovative spirit shone once again in 1986, with a project that could not be more distinct from his previous work. His involvement in Ratboy, a dark comedy directed by Sondra Locke, challenged him to bring an unusual character to life - a boy with rat-like features.

Ratboy tells the story of a young creature who is half-human, half-rat, living in isolation due to his unique appearance. The titular character, known only as 'Ratboy', was one of Baker's most distinctive creations, combining elements of the ordinary and the extraordinary to create a character that was both alarming and endearing.

Baker's challenge lay in creating a realistic, rat-like creature that elicited empathy rather than revulsion from viewers. To achieve this, he utilised a combination of prosthetics, make-up, and animatronics to transform actor S.L. Baird into the eponymous Ratboy. The result was a character who was visibly different, yet imbued with subtle human qualities that evoked sympathy and understanding from the audience.

Rick Baker working on Sharon Baird in The Ratboy (1986)

The design of Ratboy was a testament to Baker's ability to balance the grotesque with the humane. He masterfully crafted a creature that, despite its odd appearance, possessed an undeniable emotional depth and complexity. The empathetic portrayal of Ratboy was largely attributed to Baker's nuanced make-up design, which managed to humanise a character that could easily have been perceived as monstrous.

Ratboy was released to mixed reviews, with critics expressing varied opinions about its unusual narrative and bizarre central character. However, Baker's work was widely praised for its originality, realism, and the depth it added to the character of Ratboy. His skill in bringing such a unique creature to life was seen as a high point in a film that otherwise divided opinion.

Although Ratboy did not gain mainstream success, it remains a highlight in Baker's filmography, showcasing his ability to create believable characters out of the most unconventional ideas. Its enduring influence is a testament to Baker's genius, demonstrating how his transformative artistry can give depth and dimension to even the most idiosyncratic characters.

  • Ratboy was released in October 1986 and was directed by Sondra Locke.
  • The titular character, 'Ratboy', was portrayed by actor S.L. Baird.
  • Rick Baker was the key makeup effects artist for the film, tasked with creating the unique appearance of the protagonist.
  • Baker used a combination of prosthetics, makeup, and animatronics to bring 'Ratboy' to life.
  • Despite the film receiving mixed reviews, Baker was praised for his original and realistic character design.
  • The film is considered a testament to Baker's ability to create empathy for unconventional characters through his ingenious makeup effects.
  • Although it was not a commercial hit, Ratboy holds a special place in Baker's filmography for its distinct narrative and character design.
  • The film is remembered for its unusual central character, a testament to Baker's transformative artistry.

Harry and the Hendersons (1987): Bringing a Gentle Giant to Life

Harry and the Hendersons (1987) movie poster

In 1987, Baker's creativity was again put to the test with the film, Harry and the Hendersons. The heartwarming family comedy, directed by William Dear, presented the challenge of bringing a mythical creature to life on screen - a Bigfoot named Harry. Tasked with creating a believable, loveable, and visually impressive Bigfoot was no small feat, but Baker rose to the occasion with his characteristic enthusiasm and artistry.

The character of Harry was a departure from the typical Bigfoot image of a terrifying, towering creature. Instead, the film presented Harry as a gentle and endearing giant, more misunderstood than menacing. To achieve this, Baker crafted a full-body suit and facial appliances for actor Kevin Peter Hall, who stood at an impressive 7 feet 2 inches tall.

Rick Baker creating Harry: Harry and the Hendersons (1987)

The transformation was remarkable. Harry was expressive and animated, capturing audiences' hearts with his soft eyes, distinct facial expressions, and unmistakable charm. Notably, Baker's extraordinary work on the character earned him an Academy Award for Best Makeup, his first win in the category, further cementing his position as a leading figure in the field of special effects makeup.

Harry and the Hendersons is remembered fondly for its light-hearted take on the Bigfoot mythology, its compelling family narrative, and most notably, the unforgettable character of Harry. Baker's contribution to the film was instrumental in its success, illustrating once again his ability to instill life and soul into his creations. Here are some key points about the film:

  • Harry and the Hendersons was released in June 1987 and was directed by William Dear.
  • The character of 'Harry', portrayed by Kevin Peter Hall, was a sympathetic and endearing representation of Bigfoot, quite different from the typical portrayal of the creature.
  • Rick Baker was the lead makeup effects artist for the film, creating the full-body suit and facial appliances for the character of 'Harry'.
  • Baker's work on the film won him an Academy Award for Best Makeup, his first win in this category.
  • The film is remembered for its unique portrayal of Bigfoot and the outstanding character design by Baker, showcasing his unique ability to create empathy for unconventional characters through his ingenious makeup effects.

Upon its release, Harry and the Hendersons was met with mixed critical response.

Kevin Peter Hall, the man inside, Rick Bakers, Harry costume

While some critics lauded its heartwarming narrative and the lovable characterisation of Harry, others found the film to lack the depth and subtlety they desired. The primary consensus, however, was the undeniable impact of Rick Baker's makeup artistry. His creation of Harry drew widespread praise for its realism and expressiveness, elevating the film beyond its family-comedy genre. Critics noted the painstaking detail and innovative techniques that Baker used to construct Harry's strikingly human-like expressions. Despite the varying opinions on the film's overall execution, Baker's transformative artistry was universally recognised and applauded. His ability to create a relatable and affectionate Bigfoot character was viewed as a remarkable achievement, further attesting to his standing as a leader in the field of special makeup effects.


The Magic of Beauty and the Beast (1987–1989)

Beauty and the Beast (1987–1989) series poster

In 1987, Rick Baker embarked on a new creative journey, proving his artistry was not confined to the big screen. Baker joined the crew for the hit CBS series Beauty and the Beast, where he was tasked with creating the appearance of the Beast, played by Ron Perlman.

Beauty and the Beast was a contemporary retelling of the classic fairy tale, set in New York City. The show garnered a dedicated fanbase, praised for its unique blend of romance, drama, and fantasy, with Perlman's Beast, or 'Vincent', being a standout character.

Baker's design for Vincent was a departure from conventional portrayals of the Beast. Instead of a monstrous facade, Baker created a more human-like creature, embodying a gentler, more contemplative Beast. He combined prosthetics, makeup, and hair design to craft a character that was both fearsome and sympathetic.

Vincent's leonine features, created with painstaking attention to detail, were a testament to Baker's skill. The facial prosthetics, which took hours to apply, transformed Perlman into a humanoid lion, maintaining the actor's expressiveness under the elaborate makeup. This was a crucial aspect, as Vincent's emotive portrayal was central to the series' success.

The series ran from 1987 to 1989, during which Baker's work on the show earned him an Emmy win for Outstanding Makeup for a Series. This accolade was a testament to his tremendous talent in character creation, further establishing his status as a formidable force in the industry.

  • The character of Vincent, played by Ron Perlman, was a modern reinterpretation of the Beast character, displaying Baker's ability to reimagine traditional roles.
  • Baker's design included a combination of prosthetics, makeup, and hair design to form the character's distinctive look.
  • The makeup application process was extensive, demonstrating Baker's dedication to achieving a realistic transformation.
  • Baker earned an Emmy for his work on Beauty and the Beast, cementing his reputation as a highly respected makeup effects artist.
  • Despite the series ending in 1989, the character of Vincent remains a testament to Baker's ability to create memorable, empathetic characters through his transformative work.

The Terrifying Transformation in Werewolf (1987–1988)

Werewolf (1987–1988) poster

Rick Baker continued to astonish audiences with his transformative makeup techniques in the 1987 Fox series Werewolf. Engrossing viewers in the chilling narrative of a college student-turned-lycanthrope, Baker's task was to bring the monstrous, hairy beast to life. The series was a horror-themed spectacle, with Baker's work heavily contributing to its eerie charm.

In Werewolf, Baker worked meticulously to create a terrifying yet believable werewolf, using his knowledge of anatomy and his attention to detail to construct a convincing transformation from man to beast. The makeup process was painstaking, involving several hours of work to apply the intricate mixture of prosthetics, hair, and makeup. The result was a creature that was both horrifying and fascinating, capturing the imaginations of the viewers.

The transformation scenes, a staple of any werewolf-themed narrative, were where Baker's expertise shone brightest.

Behind the scenes: Werewolf (1987–1988)

Baker created an innovative transformation method that made the process seem seamless on-screen, a method which involved the use of multiple stages and prosthetic overlays.

Each stage of the transformation was separately filmed and then combined in post-production, creating a smooth and realistic metamorphosis from man to beast.

Despite the series' short run, from 1987 to 1988, Baker's work was met with critical acclaim, earning him another Emmy nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup. The series remains a milestone in his illustrious career, demonstrating his exceptional talent in creating unforgettable characters with his transformative makeup techniques.

  • Werewolf was a Fox series that ran from 1987 to 1988.
  • Rick Baker's task was to create a terrifying and believable werewolf character.
  • Baker used a mixture of prosthetics, hair, and makeup to achieve the transformation.
  • The transformation scenes were meticulously crafted and filmed in stages, displaying Baker's innovative approach.
  • The series earned Baker an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup.
  • Werewolf stands as a testament to Baker's talent in creating memorable, horror-themed characters.

The Royal Transformation in Coming to America (1988)

Coming to America (1988) film cover / poster

1988 marked yet another turning point in Rick Baker's illustrious career with the release of the comedy film Coming to America. Directed by John Landis, the film starred Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall in multiple roles – a feat made possible by Baker's transformative makeup effects.

In Coming to America, Baker had the unique challenge of creating multiple distinct characters for both Murphy and Hall. Instead of the usual horror or fantastical creatures, Baker was tasked with crafting believable characters of varying ages, ethnicities, and genders. From the elderly Jewish barbershop patron to an African royal family member, the range was significant, and each character required a unique look and personality.

Baker's makeup effects were instrumental in enabling Murphy and Hall to convincingly play multiple roles within the same scenes.

Rick Baker making up Eddie Murphy: Coming to America (1988)

His meticulous work transformed the actors entirely, making it difficult to recognise them beneath the prosthetics and makeup. His attention to detail, from wrinkles and spots for the older characters to the distinctive features of each character's ethnicity, highlighted his expertise and creativity.

The makeup transformation process was extensive, often taking several hours before the actors were ready for shooting. Yet, despite these challenges, Baker's work on Coming to America was met with critical acclaim, earning him an Academy Award for Best Makeup. This accolade further established Baker's unparalleled status in the industry.

Rick Baker working on Eddie Murphy: Coming to America (1988)

Upon its release, Coming to America was met with generally positive reviews. Critics lauded the film's humour and the performances of Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall. However, a significant portion of the praise was aimed at Rick Baker's incredible makeup effects. Critics were astounded by the realistic and diverse set of characters Baker created for Murphy and Hall, further enforcing his reputation for unparalleled character creation. The film's success and the critical acclaim for Baker's work signified another milestone in his illustrious career. It demonstrated that his makeup wizardry was not confined to the genres of horror or fantasy but could be applied with equal success to comedy and drama, highlighting his versatility in the industry.

  • Coming to America was a comedy film released in 1988, directed by John Landis and starring Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall.
  • Rick Baker was responsible for creating a variety of distinct characters for the lead actors.
  • The characters ranged in age and ethnicity, demonstrating Baker's versatility and creativity.
  • Baker's work in Coming to America earned him an Academy Award for Best Makeup, underlining his immense talent and dedication to the craft.
  • Despite the demanding transformation process, the film remains a highlight in Baker's career, showcasing his ability to create a diverse range of characters.

A Walk on the Wild Side: Gorillas in the Mist (1988)

Gorillas in the Mist (1988) film poster

In the same year that Coming to America was causing raucous laughter in cinemas, another movie was leaving audiences awe-struck and contemplative. The biographical drama, Gorillas in the Mist, directed by Michael Apted, told the story of primatologist Dian Fossey, whose life's work was dedicated to the study and protection of mountain gorillas. Rick Baker's artistic genius was once again called upon, but this time, to create realistic gorilla costumes that could pass for real animals on screen. Baker's task was monumental.

He had to craft life-sized gorilla costumes that would not only move convincingly but also withstand the rigors of filming in harsh conditions.

Rick Baker with Sigourney Weaver in front of mechanical gorilla

Beyond just creating lifelike gorillas, Baker also had to ensure that the actors inside the suits could perform and interact naturally. He and his team meticulously studied the anatomy and movements of gorillas, using this knowledge to create intricate and realistic costumes.

The finished product was absolutely mesmerising. The gorillas looked and moved so naturally that audiences often found it hard to distinguish between the real animals and Baker’s creations.

This achievement was a testament to Baker's unparalleled skill, attention to detail, and deep respect for the creatures he was replicating.

Rick Baker creating head of gorilla

Baker's work on Gorillas in the Mist was widely acclaimed, earning him yet another Academy Award nomination for Best Makeup. Though he didn't win, the nomination alone was a testament to the exceptional quality and authenticity of his work. This film added another feather in his cap, showcasing his ability to create realistic animal characters that matched, if not surpassed, the audience's expectations.

  • Gorillas in the Mist is based on the true story of Dian Fossey, a woman who dedicated her life to studying and protecting mountain gorillas in the wild.
  • The film was shot on location in Rwanda, where Fossey conducted her research, adding a layer of authenticity to the movie.
  • The title of the film, Gorillas in the Mist, is derived from Fossey's autobiography of the same name.
  • Sigourney Weaver, who portrayed Fossey, followed gorillas in the wild as part of her preparation for the role.
  • Weaver's dedicated performance earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
  • The movie was released in 1988 and became a global hit, helping to raise awareness about the plight of mountain gorillas.
  • The film's commercial and critical success also played a significant role in increasing funding and support for gorilla conservation efforts.

A Puppet Masterpiece: Missing Link (1988)

Missing Link (1988) film poster

In the late 1980s, stop-motion animation was considered a dying art, but one movie took a risk and embarked on an ambitious project. Missing Link, directed by Carol and David Hughes, featured our makeup wizard, Rick Baker, in a role that was a departure from his usual fare. In this adventure-comedy film, Baker was tasked with creating lifelike stop-motion puppets, a challenge he relished.

Baker's artistic genius was once again on display as he meticulously designed and crafted puppets that were realistic, expressive, and capable of performing a wide range of movements. The puppets were designed with intricate details, from their facial features to their clothing, and were operated using a complex system of wires and controls, allowing for smooth and seamless movement.

Rick Bakers ape like man creation: Missing Link (1988)

The result was a film that offered a stunning visual experience, with characters that were full of life and personality. Baker's creativity breathed life into these inanimate figures, and it was clear that his skills as a special makeup effects artist transcended genres and mediums.

Critics and audiences praised Missing Link for its innovative use of stop-motion animation and the lifelike quality of its puppets. While the film may not have had the mass appeal of some of Baker's earlier works, it was an important contribution to the art of puppetry and animation. It demonstrated Baker's ability to adapt and excel in new areas, further solidifying his reputation as one of the most versatile and innovative artists in the film industry.

  • Missing Link is a stop-motion animated film that explores the adventure of a young boy and his encounters with a mysterious creature.
  • Rick Baker was responsible for creating the film’s lifelike puppets, showcasing his versatility and creativity.
  • Despite the demanding puppet creation process, Baker’s work was met with critical acclaim.
  • Missing Link remains a unique highlight in Baker’s career, showcasing his ability to transcend genres and mediums.

Upon the film's release, critics were quick to take note of Missing Link's technical achievements. The visual spectacle that Baker had created was widely applauded, with many reviewers expressing admiration for the lifelike quality of the puppets.

Ape like man created by Rick Baker: Missing Link (1988)

The film was praised for its innovative use of stop-motion animation, with critics noting that it breathed new life into a waning art form. However, it wasn't just the technical aspects that won over the critics. The narrative, with its unique blend of adventure and comedy, was also lauded for its engaging storytelling. While some critics expressed that Missing Link didn't have the widespread appeal of Baker's more traditional makeup effects work, they universally acknowledged his talent and his ability to transcend genres and mediums. Despite the mixed reviews in terms of mass appeal, the film firmly cemented Baker's status as a pioneering and versatile artist in the film industry.


Impact of Rick Baker's Work

Rick Baker's innovative makeup work revolutionised the film industry, setting a new standard for realism and attention to detail. His pioneering use of materials and techniques brought characters and creatures to life in a way that had never been seen before, captivating audiences and inspiring future generations of makeup artists. Baker's work on films such as Gorillas in the Mist and Missing Link showcased his versatility and creativity, demonstrating that his talent extended beyond traditional makeup effects to include lifelike animal costumes and intricately designed stop-motion puppets.

Rick operating the werewolf: American Werewolf in London

His contributions to the industry were widely recognised, with numerous awards and nominations attesting to his skill and influence. However, the impact of Baker's work extends beyond the accolades. His creations have become iconic pieces of film history, remembered and revered by audiences around the world. Moreover, Baker's work has had a significant educational impact, with his realistic animal and creature designs providing a fascinating insight into anatomy, behaviour and characterization.

Baker's legacy in the film industry is unequivocal. He has left an indelible mark on the art of special effects makeup, and his work continues to be a benchmark for quality and innovation. His influence can be seen in countless films and television shows, and his dedication to his craft has paved the way for many aspiring artists who follow in his footsteps. In a career spanning over four decades, Rick Baker proved that makeup effects are not just about creating an illusion, but about bringing stories and characters to life in the most memorable way.


Rick creating Jack's slashed face: American Werewolf in London

While Baker's career spans several decades and a wide range of projects, this post has primarily focused on his remarkable work in the 1980s. This era marked a significant period in his career, during which he crafted some of the most memorable and influential pieces of special effects makeup in cinematic history. From Gorillas in the Mist to Missing Link, the 80s encapsulated a time of incredible creativity and innovation for Baker, setting a benchmark in film that continues to inspire artists today. However, Baker's artistry extends well beyond this decade, and his succeeding works continue to exemplify the depth and versatility of his talent. Stay tuned as we delve into the later chapters of Baker's career in upcoming posts. The journey of exploring Rick Baker's cinematic magic is far from over.